Lake Naivasha (fresh water) & Hell's Gate National Park

Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate

Lake Naivasha is a beautiful freshwater lake, fringed by thick papyrus.

Where is Naivasha?

75 Km north of Nairobi, on the floor of the Rift Valley. The road is busy (main route to Uganda) but in good condition. 3 hrs driving.

How big is the park?

The lake is almost 13 Km across, but its water is shallow with an average depth of just five metres. The actual area of the lake varies dramatically in proportion to local rainfall, with a range between 114 Km² and 991 Km². At the beginning of the 20th Century Lake Naivasha completely dried up and effectively disappeared. The resulting open land was farmed, until heavy rains a few years later caused the lake to return to existence, swallowing up the newly established estates.

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Colobus monkeys in a yellow-barked Fever Tree

Access to the park
The road that goes across the northern boundary of the park is the main road between Nairobi and Kampala in Uganda. A busy tarmac side-road runs along the east and south side; the road on the west is dusty piste.

Habitats

The west and north shores are occupied by ranches; the east is dominated by intensive rose production for export. The south has absolutely lovely groves of Fever trees and connects with Hell’s Gate National Park. Joy Adams’s house (of Born Free fame) is on the southern shore.

Hidden Gem

In the south-west corner of Lake Naivasha there’s a steep bank which connects to another lake, much smaller than Naivasha and never in the guidebooks. This is Crater Lake which is soda. There’s a lovely lodge here which is one of the best kept secrets of Kenya. Crater Lake has flamingos, Naivasha has all the freshwater species and at night you can see Naivasha hippos grazing on the shore of a soda lake: The bet of both worlds.

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Crater Lake Lodge, adjacent to Lake Naivasha

Animals of Naivasha and Hell’s Gate

The waters of the lake draw a great range of game to these shores. Giraffes wander among the acacia, buffalo wallow in the swamps and colobus monkeys call from the treetops while the lake’s large hippo population sleep the day out in the shallows.
Park note

Afternoon winds and squally storms can cause the lake to become suddenly rough and produce high waves. For this reason, the local Maasai christened the lake “Nai’posha” meaning ”rough water”, which the British later misspelt as Naivasha.

The lake and its surrounding lands are rich in natural bounty and the fertile soils and water supply have made this one of Kenya’s prime agricultural regions. The flowers we buy in local British supermarkets originate from the rose farms on the eastern shore of the lake. They are air freighted to Amsterdam and trucked to the UK. There are huge financial benefits to the local economy in Kenya, but a corresponding impact on the water-table – nothing is simple!

Much of the lake is surrounded by forests of the starkly beautiful yellow-barked Acacia Xanthophlea, known as the “Fever Tree”. The name comes from a misunderstanding: mosi’s need still, fresh water to breed. Mosi’s carry malaria. Early settlers noticed that the shores of this lake were bad for malaria infection. Malaria turns the sufferer’s skin yellow. Hence the association with the yellow tree. The tree has nothing to do with malaria! These forests abound with bird life, and Naivasha is known as a world class birding destination.

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Hell’s Gate National Park

Hell’s Gate National Park is just south of the lake and takes its name from a pair of massive red-tinged cliffs framing a geothermally active interior of steam vents and bubbling springs. The park is home to a profusion of plains game and birdlife. Walking is permitted, making it ideal for hiking, biking, and rock climbing.

 

Nxai Pan Giraffe

Giraffe at sunset

Sunsets are always stunning, with the haunting call of a fish eagle high overhead bringing the day to a perfect end.